Why I Don’t Prefer the Phrase “Criteria of Canonicity”

by Michael J. Kruger

If a person asks how we know which books belong in the NT canon (and which do not), they will often hear that the answer lies with the “criteria of canonicity.”

All we have to do, we are told, is simply look for books that meet these “criteria” and then we can know which books are in or out. What are these criteria? Typically things like apostolicity, orthodoxy, usage, age, etc.

Now, let me say there are a number of helpful things here. In particular, I agree that apostolicity is a key aspect of canon. However, I don’t prefer the concept of “criteria of canonicity” for a number of reasons:

1. The term “criteria” gives the impression that someone is standing over canonical books, judging them by some external standard not found in the canonical books themselves. It can imply that there is some neutral investigative starting place where we can use scientific criteria to evaluate books.

But, the idea that we can somehow validate the canon by external (and presumably neutral) standards is highly problematic.  If the canon is God’s Word, and therefore the highest authority, we cannot validate it without, at the same time, using it.  That is an inevitable reality when it comes to the task of authenticating ultimate authorities…

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Why I Don’t Prefer the Phrase “Criteria of Canonicity”